The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Setting tender sights on a better tomorrow

Identity crisis, those first stirrings of love, radical changes in body and image. The classic signs of adolescence seldom change. But they are often heightened for underprivileged children who do not have the support of a family and a secure home.

To address these issues, World Vision organised a two-day workshop on health education for 50 adolescent girls, which started on Thursday. The international NGO, operating in over 100 countries, runs 15 schools in the slums of central and north Calcutta, from which the participants were selected.

“The issues we have chosen to address have emerged from sessions with the girls themselves,” explains Pramod Nag of World Vision, which focuses on awareness-building among children and women. Issues related to mental and physical well-being, social pressures such as early marriage, health hazards like HIV/AIDS and empowerment tools, including improvement of inter-personal skills, were just a few of the areas to be touched upon.

The West Bengal Voluntary Health Association, partner in the workshop, put together a panel of facilitators, including Snigdha Gohain, director of Tender Minds Special, a counselling centre for children. “This is just a beginning for the girls, to get them thinking on these lines,” says Gohain. More such sessions are in the pipeline, for girls as well as boys. But it is in school, at a local level, that most of the work must be done, stresses the counsellor on Day One of the workshop held at Seva Kendra in Entally.

Taking a session with the girls from the Basanti Devi Colony, Bagmari Sevak Nagar and Saraj Mukherjee Colony, she discussed the unsettling feelings many of them may have been experiencing. Adolescents, a “misguided and misunderstood lot” feel confused. “They are neither children nor adults,” says Gohain.

“The problems of adolescence are common to all. But for the underprivileged, they are worsened by three main factors: lack of proper nourishment, no real family structure or emotional support to fall back on and lack of a defined home space.” Adding to their confusion is their vulnerability to physical, mental and sexual abuse.

World Vision schools in Calcutta provide non-formal education and coaching to over 2,000 students, where the Taiwan and Hong Kong-funded organisation started its India edition in 1962. It also has a dedicated project for the Chinese community, covering education, awareness, nutrition and health drives.

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